For Luke, the ascension was a significant moment in the disciples' personal transformation and the advance of the gospel through the church. He emphasized the importance of the ascension by ending his Gospel with this event and beginning his second volume, Acts, with it.
The ascension had a profound impact on the disciples. Up to the moment that Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples seemed to be puzzled, trying to figure it all out. But after the ascension, they worshiped Him. They traveled back to Jerusalem with great joy. They maintained a regular presence in the temple—worshiping God.
At first, the disciples' reaction to Jesus' ascension may catch us off guard. Jesus had just "left them." And yet they were happy—filled with joy. Why this reaction? After all, when Jesus told them at the end of John 13 that He would soon leave them, they were deeply disturbed.
Thus, He encouraged them by teaching them about the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14–17). He kept them from the brink of utter despair by saying, "You are not losing Me, but I am going to be with you in a different way through My Spirit."
The ascension of Jesus produced joy because the disciples realized what amazing benefits would come to them when Jesus returned to the Father. When Jesus ascended, all the promises regarding the Spirit's ministry to the disciples were about to be fulfilled. The disciples accepted His ascension, for they had accepted Jesus' word about the promised One to come. Their doubts and fears were gone. They were convinced of who He was. They knew that He died to forgive them of their sins. They knew He was alive from the dead. In His resurrection, they had hope in victory over death.
They trusted Him. For these reasons, Jesus' departure gave the disciples joy.
The benefits of the ascension are many:
- When Jesus ascended and sat down at the Father's right hand, the Father verified the accomplishment of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and confirmed that the final payment for sin had been made (Heb. 10:11-14).
- When Jesus ascended, the intercessory work of Jesus on behalf of His people began. In this ministry, we are assured that we will always have access to the Father forever (1 John 2:1).
- When Jesus ascended, His eternal reign over all enemies began. As Peter wrote, "Now that He has gone into heaven, He is at God's right hand with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him" (1 Pet. 3:22).
- Finally, when Jesus ascended, the church was empowered to accomplish its mission. In Ephesians 1:22-23, writing about Jesus' resurrection and ascension, Paul said, "[God the Father] put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way."
Jesus Christ is the King of the universe, and Satan can do nothing about it. What Satan can do is tempt us to forget about Jesus as King. He uses a thousand tricks to do it, but he is after one thing—to eclipse our present awareness of who Jesus is and where He is. In the Book of Acts, Stephen, right before being stoned, looked up into heaven and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. The New Testament points us to this picture so that we will have a settled confidence that Jesus our Savior is the King over all things.
Joy, hope, and mission are three consistent responses of the disciples to Christ's resurrection and ascension. In light of these two great events, we see the disciples transformed and mobilized to follow Jesus on His mission.
We go forward with hope and joy because the King of the universe promises that He will never leave or forsake us. If we want to experience greater transformation and the joy of following Jesus on mission, we should build our confidence on the finished and sufficient work of Jesus Christ. The resurrection and ascension testify to the completion and perfection of His work.